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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rodrigo Amado - Surface (European Echoes, 2007) ****

As listeners of any music, what we're looking for is a great listening experience. And for me, a great part of the fun of listening is hearing things you haven't heard before, that are furthermore emotionally and aesthetically appealing and intellectually interesting. What Portuguese alto and baritone saxophonist Rodrigo Amado does on "Surface" is just that. Accompanied by a trio of highly experienced jazz strings, Carlos Zíngaro on violin and viola, Tomas Ulrich on cello and Ken Filiano on double bass, he brings a chamber-jazz kind of music. Interestingly enough the string trio gets the whole focus of the composition, creating an improvized backbone of shifting layers of music, shifting continuously between playing arco and pizzicato, with Amado improvizing on top of it. And it's jazz, no doubt about it, even if much of the approach is borrowed from modern improvized music. The music has all the ingredients of bop and swing and even blues, rhytmycally and in the melodic structure, even if it's not apparent on the surface of things. The strings allow for a deeply emotional approach, offering both very romantic moments of very sad bowing on the cello, or screeching gut-wrenching sounds from all three string instruments. There is sadness and sorrow here, and also joy, especially in the shorter pieces, but also some eery yet interesting sound explorations, as in "Calculators". This music is gentle and explorative, with interesting angles and perfect execution. Although Amado's contribution to the overall sound is absolutely essential, the fact that he gives ample room for the strings to do their thing is one of the major successes of this album. Definitely a musician to follow closely.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Brötzmann/Nilssen-Love/Gustafsson - The Fat Is Gone (Smalltown Superjazz, 2007) ***

Recorded live at the Norwegian Molde Festival in 2006, this album brings three of Europe's most prominent free jazz musicians together. The three have of course played many times together in various bands, but never as this trio to my knowledge. The nice thing is that these guys are really great musicians and they play with an ease and intensity that is remarkable. The downside is that they're revisiting for the umpteenth time the same territory, and what was once considered as adventurous and leaving the beaten track, now sounds like haven't-I-heard-this-all-before? The saxes screech and wail, the drums thunder, with power and energy and intensity and relentless drive, once in a while slowing down but even then the blowing power is nothing short of ferocious. On "Colours In Action", there are some sensitive meditative moments after 21 minutes, but these don't last very long, because Brötzmann really wants to blow his lungs out, he really can't help it. The equally long title track offers some more variation, even with beautiful melodious and emotional parts, somewhere between sadness, anguish and anger, with the latter setting the tone for the rest of the piece, adding some fury and distress to the mix, moving back to absolute rage, just to end in some soothing shimmering bee-like humming, still full of restrained tension and false calm, taking even the audience - which never expected such a quiet ending - by surprise.

You can download via

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Carl Ludwig Hübsch - Primordial Soup (Red Toucan Records, 2007) ****

I am not a true fan of free improv which just consists of squeaks and squeals and snorts and whinnies. I need a little minimum of true music to fully appreciate a record, or - to put it differently - I don't understand musicless music, but that may come, that may come, with age, with more listening ... What German tuba-player Carl Ludwig Hübsch does on this record comes at times very close to the border of what I find bearable, yet on the other hand many of the parts which I call true music - and I know that's a very relative concept - are truly excellent. Hübsch, who composed all the material, is accompanied by some of the best improvising musicians on the German scene : Axel Dörner on trumpet, Frank Gratkowski on reeds and Michael Griener on drums and percussion. This music is composed, though, even if it is improvised. The structural basis of the music is at first listening far from being apparent, but as things evolve, the emergence of unisono lines and unclear rhythms which suddenly manifest themselves give surprising effects. The album starts with "NGC Hades B", a composition that is not only hardly audible, but which consists to a large extent of silence, with the occasional sound or sound clusters, creating solo or unisono monotonous waves that come and go, just to be replaced by silence again. The "Primordial Soup" in the title refers to the watery substance out of which life itself emerged some 3.8 billion years ago by loose chemicals starting to merge and become proteins. And the music surely imitates this process. The compositions are very abstract with notes jumping with high ranges over the scales, with lots of counterpoint melodies and odd rhythmic patterns, yet it all fits well. And the tracks are ordered in a nice way between pre-cambrian evocations and plain fun. For instance, on the sixth track "Pressio", you can close your eyes and indeed be transported back to a windy and watery expanse in which bizarre things are taking place below the surface, but then it's followed by a clearly composed tune "NGC 2270 Terrier", which has elements of brass band and early swing in it, with Hübsch's tuba providing the foundation for the other musicians to improvize, and at times even throwing them off balance, just to be brought back by the other musicians into the primordial soup and then slowly back into some really great subdued yet joyful unisono playing. But the next track "NGC 2776 Inspektion" brings you back underwater, in the soup, for a composition with as few notes as possible, creating images of a slowly bubbling oozy substance. The last track is joyous and sad at the same time, like the song of the whales. Really interesting music. Don't be judgmental when listening to it for the first time, be patient and listen again. This music has great depth, and what the musicians manage to create, not only by getting unknown sounds out of their instruments, but also by creating sound sculptures you've never heard before, is a great listening experience.

Fresu/Galliano/Lundgren - Mare Nostrum (Act, 2007) ****

(Three non free jazz reviews in a row. That's unusual and as of tomorrow I'm back into free jazz.)

If you want to hear sad music, you should buy this record. In any case it is a perfect fit for the sadness of autumn, the falling leaves, the drizzling rain, the weeping of humanity, the melancholy for lost loves, nostalgia for long forgotten times, ... The three musicians, Paolo Fresu on trumpet, Richard Galliano on accordion and Jan Lundgren on piano manage to create an atmosphere which so incredibly pure in its emotional coherence, so sensitive in its musical approach, so rich in its substance, so melodious in its compositions, to make it an absolutely recommendable album. It can almost compete with Tomasz Stanko's Litania or Miles Davis' "L'Ascenseur Pour l'Echafaud", ... that kind of sensitive power. Needless to introduce the musicians, they are all three well-known, well-established European mainstream jazz artists. Most tunes are slow, sad, carefully composed little gems, with lots of warmth and deep human feelings in them, without falling into the abyss of mellowness. Once in a while, some joyous melody takes over, such as in "Principessa" or "Chat Pitre", but these are the exceptions. I usually get bored very quickly with mainstream jazz, but this one is a little bit different, the authenticity and the overall quality of the music is such that you can keep listening to it, finding new shades and colorings, enjoying the level of the interplay.

Listen to
Varvindar Friska
Chat Pitre

Joachim Kuhn - Kalimba (Act, 2007) ****

Joachim Kuhn, the German pianist, joins forces with Majid Bekkas, from Morroco, on guembri, vocals, oud, kalimba and percussion, and Ramon Lopez, from Spain, on drums. It's hard to explain, but the music does not sound as if various styles are combined, they fit rather nicely as a genre by itself, as if it was always meant to sound like this, with the hypnotic, bluesy, jazzy, sometimes even classical piano, playing great music with great rhythmic support and with the wonderful singing of Bekkas to lead us through the music on some of the tracks. Kuhn has of course had many other tries at world jazz, including last year's "Journey To The Center Of An Egg" with Rabih Abou-Khalil, on which the piano-oud-drums combination was first tried, and the album's success may have encouraged him to continue on that road. It has in any case lead him to a musical territory of real interest, one in which the music itself dominates, rather than the artificial mixing of genres. The music is joyful, meditative, sad, elegant, ... and very serene. A real treat.

Listen to
A Live Experience
Rabih's Delight

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Avishai Cohen - After The Big Rain (Anzic Records, 2007)***½

I first got to know Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen via The Lemon Juice Quartet's "Peasant Songs", an easy to recommend, beautiful record that combines jazz, klezmer and modern classical music. His first endeavours in the area of world jazz with two records with his "Third World Love" band, I found less successful. Now he has changed the concept a little bit, still with Omer Avital on bass and Daniel Freedman on drums, adding Lionel Loueke, from Benin, on guitar and vocals, Jason Lindner on keyboards and Yosvany Terry on chekere. The music is nice enough, very often reminding of Don Cherry's mid-seventies period, with muted trumpet, African rhythms spiced with Spanish and Middle-Eastern influences. This album would be the final part of a trilogy on "the big rain", but I could unfortunately not find any information on the other two albums. Cohen explains the title : "The big rain is like a flood, maybe the biblical big rain, but it can be many things. It's not meant to be tragic." As the lyric of "After the Big Rain" states: "The world is a river of hope/beauty is already here." The combination between Loueke and Cohen works quite well, and even if the electronically distorted trumpet sometimes moves too far into real fusion territory to my taste, the overall effect is still great. The music is all about rhythm and atmosphere, yet it also offers real substance, which will want you make to put it on again and again. Not all compositions are at the same high level, but that's a minor comment. All musicians are excellent.

Listen to
After The Big Rain
Meditation On Two Chords

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rawfishboys - WaR (none, 2007) ****

If there ever was a mismatch between cover art and music, then this one is a serious contender. The sketchy drawing suggests total improvization, the title WaR suggests conflict and rawness. In reality, the music is gentle, subtle, sophisticated, amiable even at times, but definitely in total contrast with the imagery of the cover. The music is by Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet and Brice Soniano on double bass. The former is Belgian, the latter French. Their music is hard to describe, and they give it a try by listing a whole range of influences ranging from pygmy music over baroque to Thelonious Monk and Dave Douglas to Ren & Stimpy. It sounds at times like mediterranean music with a chamber-like feel, sometimes like something that could come from Ned Rothenberg, or between melodious accessible music to risky but well-balanced sound explorations. The two musicians are technically and musically highly skilled and they demonstrate this capability through lots of variations on the eight very short tracks, all adding up to approx. 30 minutes. The result is a perfect balance between authentic search for new form, excellent musicianship and true emotions. We need more of this.

Listen to their music on My Space

The album can be downloaded via iTunes.

Eddie Prévost & Alan Wilkinson - So Are We, So Are We (Matchless, 2007) ***½

If you can enjoy Coltrane and Ali's Interstellar Space, then you must be open to this duo consisting of Eddie Prévost on drums and Alan Wilkinson on baritone and alto. The playing is as ferocious, using all possibilities of the instruments without any preconceived structure or concepts, no rhythm or melody, just the rawest interaction possible between two individuals, conversing, encouraging one another, creating sparks of intensity, of new sounds, of new meaning, of new textures. Prévost is one of the founders of the AMM concept, an acronym whose meaning is still hidden, but for all purposes could be coined as "Adventurous Modern Music" or "Avant Modern Music". Whatever it might be, he has stuck to his concept - and record label - since the first AMM recording in 1966. In contrast to the real experimental scene, the music is played by acoustic instruments, offering a more direct emotional expressiveness and rapport with the listener that so much avant-garde music lacks. Both musicians are absolutely excellent and bring a great listening experience.

(In the meantime I know what AMM stands for : Audacis Musicae Magistri, which is Latin for "The Masters of Audacious Music", which is MAM in English, so I can guess why they went for the Latin).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ornette Coleman - Reissued

In a bar last Sunday evening I heard a recent live recording by The Rolling Stones, playing I Can't Get No Satisfaction, wondering how it was possible that they stopped being creative somewhere in the early seventies, and then living on the heritage of those few years for the next thirty, and richly for that matter. By contrast, Ornette Coleman is in that sense a true artist, his search for new ways of expressing himself has been relentless over the years, re-inventing himself with each album, sucking in ideas from all over the musical environment, daring to come up with interesting line-ups in order to create new concepts. I saw him perform recently with three bass players (arco, pizzi and electric), and the sound he created was absolutely magnificent, and the fact that he ended with Lonely Woman, pleased me even more. And unlike The Stones, also this version was completely new. A great artist. The success of last year's Sound Grammar and the Grammy Award he received for it, may have triggered the release of some older tapes or re-issue some forgotten albums.

The Complete Live At The Hillcrest Club (Gambit Records, 2007)

The first one dates from 1958, still very much a bop record, with Paul Bley on piano, Don Cherry on trumpet, Billy Higgins on drums and Charlie Haden on bass. The sound quality is not excellent, with the volume of drums and especially the piano being too low. Yet it's great to hear Paul Bley interact with what would become the famous piano-less quartet. Lots of energy and worthwhile for Coleman fans.

To Whom Keeps A Record (Water, 2007)

The second release was so far only released in Japan on vinyl, but now available on CD. The recordings date from 1959-1960, with Coleman, Cherry, Haden and either Higgins or Blackwell. The sound quality is excellent, the music too and of the same level of the historic albums made in that period. Utterly bizarre that it wasn't reissued earlier.

Whom Do You Work For? (Get Back, 2007)

The third reissue is more recent, and was recorded live in 1971 in Berlin, with Coleman and Dewey Redman on sax, and with Haden and Blackwell. The double sax front is interesting, and I must say that it all too clearly demonstrates Redman's better mastery of the instrument, both in terms of melodic improvization and power. The highlight of the album is Haden's "Song For Ché". The earlier vinyl version of this record is called "European Concert".

So, Coleman fans, it's hard to say which one is best. All three are totally different and worthwhile at the same time.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chris Potter - Follow The Red Line (Sunnyside, 2007) ****

This is a great jazz year. Many great albums. And this one too. Chris Potter is nothing less than a great sax player, but in his former endeavours he seemed a little bit tied up in the obligation to have fixed compositional environments. Here he opens up, and with great success. The live setting - at the Village Vanguard - helps in creating a very direct contact with the listener, with a clearer focus on performance than on polished composition, moving in my opinion more into jazz as it ought to be brought, authentic expressions of true emotions, stimulating mind, body and heart at the same time. And Potter's Underground band is the kind of A-Team with which you really can go to war, consisting of Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes and Nate Smith on drums. This is not free jazz, but it's modern mainstream with the fun of a jam band, the skills of a classical jazz outfit and the freedom of the free-jazzer. The music swings, funks, rocks and jumps, with the musicians outperforming themselves. There are only 6 tunes, and for some of them I had serious doubts at first listening, like "Pop Tune # 1" which starts with the kind of predictable patterns which I abhor, but once you think you will start gagging, the tune shifts into a funky vamp not unlike the music Miles made in the early 70s and you're sold. But the four musicians are so unbelievably skilled and expressive that any tune they take on is worth listening to. And then, lo and behold, they start playing Togo, the African traditional which Ed Blackwell once adapted for Old And New Dreams, and one of the tunes I whistle every morning in the shower, and I'm sold again. Their version of "Togo" alone is worth the purchase of the record. The whole album is built on technique and musical background. That's the foundation. Then they throw in the fun and the concentrated creativity of improvization. Achieving that would already be a wonderful achievement for many bands. But they also add an emotional component that ties the listener to every note being played, and with a strong musical unity. Heart, Body and Mind : stimulating the three at the same time is a great achievement.

Evan Parker & Matthew Shipp - Abbey Road Duos (Treader, 2007) ****½

When two of modern jazz most prominent innovators join forces, expectations run high, and Matthew Shipp and Evan Parker certainly deliver the goods. The second great piano and sax record in a month (the other one is by Ehrlich and Melford), but of a totally different nature and approach. Shipp and Parker move to very abstract, fragile territory, demonstrating what joint improvization can mean for two absolute masters. The album is divided into two suites : a tenor suite and a soprano suite, and on each they create open environments with lots of space, offering room for the other player to join in, to accentuate, to echo, to contrast, yet at other times their interaction so immediate and coherent, that you would think it was composed. The tenor suite starts in a dark, brooding way, moving to a higher level of intensity on the second piece, exploratory and playful on the third, and becomes fully abstract and anguished on the fourth. The soprano suite starts in a peaceful, airy way, with Parker demonstrating his circular breathing skills, creating an almost monotonous sound over Shipp's sparse notes and occasional string-plucking, then moving into a melodious yet melodyless improvization with lots of silence : tender, fragile, subdued. The second piece becomes more agitated, with short bursts of sound and rapid-fire conversational interchange, just to slow down again in the third piece for a digression into soft emotional tonal explorations on the sax, accompanied by eery piano arpeggios. The album ends with more abstract free forms. These two musicians' musical vision and coherence in the execution is truly amazing. Let's hope they will find much more opportunities to continue with this duo format. It's without a doubt among the best fully improvized CDs of the year, creating music which might even appeal to a broader jazz audience.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Norman Howard - Burn Baby Burn (ESP, 2007) *****

If you can, try to get hold of this record (available on iTunes). It brings long-lost and/or long-forgotten music by Norman Howard, who used to be a trumpeter with Albert Ayler, recorded in '68 with Joe Phillips on sax, Walter Cliff on bass and Corney Millsap on percussion. And it's completely remastered on top of it. It's free jazz at its best, not far removed from its cradle, but the sheer raw power, the emotional expressiveness, the anything-goes-attitude are truly magnificent. But it's not a free-for-all blowing contest, the music is controlled without being too composed, opening up full of possibilities, expressing basic emotions such as anger, sorrow, joy too at moments, with a refreshing directness and musicality. The drums and bass are still strongly anchored in hard-bop, but the trumpet and sax screech, swirl and circle around each other at times without restraint, or in close unisono carrying the tune, but at other times they both weep in sorrow in long melodic lines to the arco bass of Cliff, as in "Sad Miss Holiday", one of the longest pieces and definitely one of the highlights of the album. The whole album is great without any weak points. It is coherent, visionary, powerful, emotional, expressive, ... in a word: fantastic! We love ESP for digging this one up and releasing it again. Respect!

Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford - Spark! (Palmetto, 2007) ****

Six years after "Yet Can Spring", Myra Melford (piano) and Marty Ehrlich (sax) release a long-awaited new album, and from the very first notes of "Hymn", the bluesy joy jumps out of the music, setting the tone for the rest of the album : precise phrasing, deep emotions, great interplay and lots of attention to tonal quality. The second piece is more meditative, starting with a romantic piano introduction of Melford, over which Ehrlich starts weaving some dark, melancholy notes, reminiscent of John Surman, but with even more soul : heart-rendingly beautiful. The third track is again more joyful, mediterranean-sounding, with rhytmic and melodic changes, nice long-winding unisono lines, yet leaving space for interesting solo flights. "For Leroy" starts like chamber music but quickly adds a touchy deep blues expression to it, highlighting both musicians' sense of pace, allowing the composition to get its full emotional flavor, moving back then to Melford's crystal clear almost classical piano-playing at the center of the track, which suddenly shifts into a bluesy rhythm and tone inviting Ehrlich back into the music : gorgeous! And once you think things are becoming too polished, "Up Do" begins, with unexpected twists and turns, from funky to abstract to free. That is the truly best thing about this record : both musicians are also excellent composers, with a broad background in musical styles and creative ideas on how to use them in a very functional modern way. Sometimes a little too mellow for my taste, but still, a deep-felt, wonderful album.

Listen to
A Generation Comes And Another Generation Goes

You can download the CD from the Palmetto website

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

William Parker - Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity, 2007) ***½

William Parker is among the greatest. He is among the greatest bass players, among the greatest musical adventurers, among the greatest artists, among the greatest art initiative originators, and probably among the greatest humans as well, if you can trust his poetry. His range of music is varied, ranging from his solo bass efforts to the musical exploration duos with Hamid Drake, his own regular quartet, the unbelievable free improv big band called the Little Huey Orchestra, and many more ... and then there is the Raining On The Moon Band, which is more "free mainstream vocal" jazz, with Leena Conquest stealing the show. The first record of this band is an absolutely highly recommended piece of music, with Leena Conquest singing on only three tracks. Here, she is in the spotlight, and Eri Yamamoto joins on piano. The other band members are the same : William Parker on bass, Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Lewis Barnes on trumpet and Hamid Drake on drums. The concept is also the same - Parker's political poetry sung with insistence and powerful rhythm, drenched in the blues tradition, but on the second album it is a little bit softer, less angry, more to the center of the spectrum, lighter, more song-like, gospel-like, more composed in the various meanings of the word. Yet the concept is so strong, the musicians so good, that I really don't care that it sounds like a CD 2 of the same album, rather than a new album in its own right (the last track "Gilmore's Hat" sounds like an replica of "Raining On The Moon"). Improving on the first one was impossible. This one is nice to hear too, but the adventure is gone.

Listen to and download from

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rock on! Three rock-influenced jazz albums

Hilmar Jensson's Tyft - Meg Nem SA (Skirl, 2006) ****

Hilmar Jensson's previous efforts as a leader did not really impress me, but this album is absolutely great. Released on Chris Speed's Skirl label (interesting CD cases, close to impossible to read, and impossible to stack, but you sure notice them for their unusual size), the Icelandic guitarist is accompanied by Jim Black on drums and Andrew D'Angelo on sax. This record brings music that could be categorized as jazz because of the structure of the melodies, the nature of the improvization, the instrumentality of the tunes, the sense of exploration, but it's rock music in rhythm, sound and execution. Yet, oddly enough, it's not really fusion. The pieces are short, compact, to the point. There are some sound explorations, but most of the time it's straight guitar-sax-drums. The melodies are quirky, the sound is fresh, joyous at times, sometimes dark like death metal, at moments even subdued, and just always great fun to listen to. Here's a band with lots of interesting and unheard short stories to tell, and they tell them well, with precision and conviction.

Camisetas - Camisetas (Chief Inspector, 2007) ***

Jim Black also plays a lead role on the debut album of Camisetas, on the new French label Chief Inspector, which features great cover art (and easier to stack!), with Médéric Collignon on flugelhorn and pocket trumpet, Maxime Delpierre on guitar, Arnaud Roulin on keyboards and Jim Black of course on drums, guitar and electronics. The music is even more difficult to classify. This is straight rock music, with influences ranging from Pink Floyd's early period of groundbreaking psychedelic insanity to Smashing Pumpkins-like unrelenting drive and wordless (?) vocals which do not sound like anything you've heard before (and sounding real scary for that ...). On top of that, there are some jazzy influences, and melodic substructures which are definitely fusion-like, and Collignon's trumpet brings at least the sound once in a while back to jazz territory, just to be led back to more King Crimson, heavy metal and avant-garde trash. Hard to pigeon-hole, but what the heck! These guys know what music is, and unlike many would-be modernists like Erik Truffaz, they also know what real exploration means.

Limousine - Limousine (Chief Inspector, 2006) ***

On the same label, and at the absolute other side of the spectrum, there is another trio of interest to be found, again with Maxime Delpierre on guitar, but now with David Aknin on drums, and Laurent Bardainne on sax and keyboards. This is rock music as much as it is jazz or film music, with longer tracks bringing soft-spoken atmospheric explorations. It often reminded me of John or Evan Lurie's sound tracks, mixing 60s poppy instrumentals with jazz and cinematic scores. It's in every aspect as modern as the previous reviews, but then definitely without the anger and angst of Camisetas, bringing elegantly gliding sounds, fragile, friendly and tender, like lullabies and late night club slow waltzes. Each album is the perfect antidote for the other one.

Fred Lonberg-Holm - Terminal Valentines (Atavistic, 2007) ***

Originally, Fred Lonberg-Holm's concept for "Valentines For Fred Katz" in 2001 was to bring a tribute to his namesake and colleague cellist. The musical result of this cello-bass-drums trio was so appealing, that he made two more records in the series, first "Other Valentines" and now "Terminal Valentines", a title which suggests that it is also the last one. Lonberg-Holm is one of today's most important jazz cellists, and he recently replaced trombonist Jeb Bishop with the Vandermark 5. The music here is a combination of jazz, chamber music, avant-garde and even rock, and in contrast to the other two albums, all the compositions are by the trio. The second track for instance, "Maybe It's Too Late" demonstrates their talent to the full : dark and gloomy, with deeply emotional piercing tones and lots of space for improvization on a clearly set structure. Other pieces, such as "Three Note Song" and "And You Smile" are on the other end of the spectrum, with a more joyful melodic angle. The trio's major success lies in the perfect balance between abstraction and melody, structure and improvization, emotions and intellectual play. Yet the truth is also that the line-up has its limitations, and further exploitation of the concept could indeed be a little over the top.

Listen and download via

Ethan Winogrand - Tangled Tango (Clean Feed, 2007) ***

Punk and rock drummer Ethan Winogrand has released a modern jazz album with the title Tangled Tango and which is dedicated to Elvin Jones. The relationship between these elements is still not clear after several listens. Winogrand uses the broad jazz traditions as a source for his compositions, and he brings them with a changing line-up consisting of Gorka Benitez on sax, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Ross Bonadonna on guitar, Carlos Barretto or Eric Mingus on bass. It all sounds very safe, no risks are taken, and there isn't much new to hear either. Luckily the musicians are good enough to keep the interest going. Nice enough record, but I would have expected more drive and fireworks from someone with a rock and punk background.

You can listen to samples on and download from emusic.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Noël Akchoté - So Lucky (Winter & Winter, 2007) ***

Solo acoustic guitar albums are relatively rare, but if it comes from one of the best jazz avant-garde musicians, and when the tunes bring at the same time a relatively mainstream, even poppy ode to the music of Kylie Minogue, then you really have something unique going on. And that's exactly what Frenchman Noël Akchoté does on this CD : in a masterly fashion he transcribed the poppy melodies of the Australian megastar into small jazzy gems : fresh, nice, respectful. And the last adjective is probably the most exceptional characteristic : Akchoté respects this music for what it is, demonstrates what it really contains, once stripped from the populistic beat and mass-moving ass-moving. Even the "" reviewer got fooled by the concept : "the tunes, an interesting mix of unknowns, sound like something you’ve heard before". Even the old hit, "The Locomotion" was covered by Minogue on one of her records. Yet this is jazz, this is blues, this is a record that gives us, with absolute technical mastery, creativity and precision, nice jazz guitar music, without pretence, without showing off, just making nice music : intimate and friendly.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jimmy Weinstein - This Ocean (Ad Hoc 002, 2006) ****

Jimmy Weinstein is a drummer with a very turbulent life, moving between the US and Europe, moving from one city to the other, being taught by top musicians, changing instruments, performing for years as a street musician, ending up at the Spanish Fresh Sound New Talent label where he released some CDs, then releasing this album on his own label with this Japanese trio, consisting of Satoko Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet and Masa Kamaguchi on bass. You can download the album on, and I highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in modern jazz. The music on this CD is wild, broad-minded, moving all over the place, from introvert intimistic sound explorations to very extravert super dynamic exuberant tonal explosions, very free and very open, yet still wonderfully contained and disciplined. The musicians play with great joy and utter concentration, and create music that thunders and clatters, swings and sings, surprises and enthralls, wheeps and wails and laughs, using boppish elements as much as the free-er more creative zones. I cannot sufficiently emphasize the quality of these Japanese musicians - as I've done before on this blog - Fujii and Tamura being among the best you can hear at the moment, and the fact that they are making this album with Weinstein says enough about their respect for his musical vision. And rightly so! Man, man, man, why are some CDs not more promoted? If one CD has been underexposed in the press, it's surely this one. Judge for yourself.

Listen to :
East Of Cadiz
Beaufort's Scale

The Free Zen Society (Thirsty Ear, 2007) **½

You must give Matthew Shipp credit for his musical endeavours and restless search for new idioms of expression. Here, with The Free Zen Society, he uses the gentle and melodic piano-playing of albums like "Pastoral Composure", assisted by Zeena Parkins on harp and William Parker on bass. The music was then apparently forgotten, then found again, and re-edited by Thirsty Ear producer Peter Gordon, adding other sounds and synthesizer into the mix. The overall effect is very pleasing to the ear, yet not entertaining in the sense that it keeps your attention going. To add the name of "zen" to the title is an easy trick to camouflage emptiness of vision with a spiritual cover, rather than the opposite as it should be. The album has its nice moments, and fans of old-time Klaus Schultze may find it interesting.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Unit - Time Setting (BMC, 2007) ****

Unit is an international band, with the Belgian Laurent Blondiau on trumpet and flugelhorn, the Frenchmen Matthieu Donarier on sax/clarinet and Sebastian Boisseau on bass, Hungarian Gabor Gado on guitar and the Danish Stefan Pasborg on drums. "Time Setting", which was released on the Hungarian BMC label, brings 13 short tracks, all close to two minutes, with in addition three longer pieces, of which the longest lasts 18 minutes. So far for the time indications. The music is light and open, a little more anchored in tradition, but still part of the more experimental modern jazz category. The tracks are too short to make long improvizations possible and hence are really very compact melodic sculptures created with great precision of tone, sound and structure. The large number of tracks makes it also possible to put various moods next to each other : sometimes menacing, sometimes sad, sometimes anxious, or even funny at times. The five musicians are not only technically very good, but they are also musically on the same line, which makes the unity and coherence of the whole album really strong. Recommended!

Luister naar sound samples.

Red Rockett - Mitten (Rat Records, 2007) ****

"Mitten" is the debut album by Red Rocket', a trio with Joachim Badenhorst from Belgium on tenor and clarinet, Simon Jermyn on guitar and Sean Carpio on drums, the latter both from Ireland. Badenhorst is a clarinet-player first and foremost, the sax being his second instrument. After his studies in Antwerp, he went to the Music Academy in The Hague, The Netherlands, were he had lessons from amongst others John Ruocco. This technically and compositionally strong trio brings music that is really fun to hear : very fresh and open, in part thanks to the interesting melodic explorations and the rock-influences. They vary more abstract harmonic themes with intense moments and despite the openness, the music is carefully crafted and sounds very finished. Badenhorst's solos are structured, focused and above all emotional. With Jermyn and Carpio he has found true soulmates, both in terms of technical skills and musical approach. Fans of Chris Speed, Jim Black and Hilmar Jensson will really enjoy this one.

Samples can be listened to on Myspace

Friday, September 7, 2007

John Tchicai - Witch's Scream (TUM Records, 2007) **½

If three of the top players of the early years of free jazz join forces on a new album, then expectations run high. Saxophonist John Tchicai, 71 years old, has been part in shaping the European free jazz scene, bassist Reggie Workman, 70, has made a name for himself with musicians such as Coltrane and Shepp, Andrew Cyrille, 67, has played the drums for many years with luminaries such as Cecil Taylor and John Carter. You expect fireworks, yet it turns out the other way. The three play like they have nothing left to prove, and the record sounds like a nice enough excursion, but without any real surprises, without any power, without salt, without pepper. The CD has its good moments, especially in the improvizations, like on the first track, but then comes "Monk's Dream", with vocals by Tchicai who unfortunately cannot sing. It sounds sympathetic enough at first, yet it becomes irritating very quickly, and as well on other tracks such as "Proximity" and "Alice In Wonderland". Yet the trio ends the album like they started : well. The last piece "The Current" is luckily also the longest track, but it makes it even more frustrating because it demonstrates what the rest could have been. But again, maybe my expectations were too high to start with.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bill Frisell - Floratone (Blue Note, 2007) ***½

I have always had a love/hate relationship with the music of Bill Frisell, just like I have with John Zorn, but for the opposite reason : while Frisell makes some great music, he often falls into a mellowness in which you can drown, Zorn falls into thorny bushes which tear you to pieces and neither of those situations can be described as enjoyable. However, both have a more middle of the spectrum operating area, which is still sufficiently creative and original to be attractive. This record belongs to the category to which I can listen with pleasure (along with his The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, East West, The Intercontinentals and Blues Dream), and it is in fact a joint album with Matt Chamberlain on drums, which was after a first recording, reprocessed by Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend, after which Frisell and Chamberlain had another go at it. Additional musicians are bassist Viktor Krauss, cornetist Ron Miles, and viola-player Eyvind Kang. And the result? Not bad, great playing as usual, great sound quality and interesting and extremely meticulous production. And yet, ... it all sounds a little too processed for my ears, a little bit too distant, like soundscapes indeed, but then in a setting you're no part of, like watching scenery on television. It lacks the immediacy and the emotional rapport you expect from jazz, and it lacks the smells, the bugs, the wind, the rough terrain and the personal effort you expect from being in a real landscape, and hence also much of the joy and reward you can get from it. Still, it has its great moments.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Boots Brown - Boots Brown (Slottet, 2007) ****

Swedish band "Boots Brown" consists of some of the country's key jazz figures : Mats Gustafsson on sax, Magnus Broo on trumpet, David Stackenäs on guitar, Johan Bertling on bass, accompanied by Tomas Hallonsten on organ on one track. When I heard their debut record for the first time, I was a little taken aback by the apparent emptiness, the lack of melodic evolution and structure. To its immediate strength, it had an immediacy, intimacy and fragility which were compelling. The music is pointillistic, with specks of sound reacting to one another, like random dots of paint splashed on a canvas, meaningless by themselves, but once you see them in the overall frame, with some distance, and familiarization, an overall picture emerges. More experimental jazz than free jazz, with repeated listens, the album's musical vision and creative use of sound texture and coordinated free interplay become more and more appealing. In sum, a very open exercise, very gentle, at moments sad, at moments joyful. A rare treat.

Listen to
Teak Industrial Trailblazer
Gaucho Volcano

Monday, September 3, 2007

Taylor Ho Bynum & Tomas Fujiwara - True Events (482 Music, 2007) ****

Regular visitors of this blog will know that I like Don Cherry and that I favor small ensembles that improvize freely. And that almost sums up why I did not like Taylor Ho Bynum's "The Middle Picture" that much, while I really enjoy "True Events". Both were released this year, but are incomparable : the former was a very orchestral affair with too much ambition, too much variation, which did not manage to create a real unity of style, a problem which is of course easier to avoid in a smaller trumpet-drums setting. And that is beyond a doubt the real power of this album : both musicians not only share a broad and excellent technique, they've also known each other for over 15 years and that entails an interactive power that is a real treat to hear. Most tracks are short, very short even, with a minimal sketchy melodic and rhythmic structure. That aspect is the nice part of this music : it's poetic rather than epic, compact and eloquent in its expressive power, rather than needing a long story to come across. Only one of the tracks is completely improvized "The Emperor Of Ice Creams", which lasts almost 15 minutes, but which offers a great extension from the poetic parts to a more conversational dialogue between the two instruments. Great music.

Listen to : The Upset

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Art of the Duo : trumpet-drums duo and sax-drums duo

Since John Coltrane and Rashied Ali created "Interstellar Space" with only sax and percussion, opening through this limited line-up new realms of expression, often raw, hard, yet incredibly direct and open, many have seen the opportunities it offered and followed their example. Playing in a trio format is for many already a tough task, but relinquishing the typical role of the bass as melodic and rhythmic anchor point, offers a total freedom of interaction, but it's like poetry without rhyme, there is no comfort zone to fall back into, no safe haven, no safety net, it's swim or drown. Without technical mastery, creativity and close listening skills, it's hard to create anything meaningful at all.

Some memorable records :

Sax-percussion duo

John Coltrane &Rashied Ali : Interstellar Space
Daniel Carter & Ravi Padmanabha : Nivesana
Günter Baby Sommer & Raymond MacDonald : Delphinius & Lyra
John Surman & Jack DeJohnette : Invisible Nature
Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake : Back Together Again
Fred Anderson & Steve McCall : Vintage Duets
Robert Barry & Fred Anderson : Live Duets 2001
John Butcher & Paal Nilssen-Love - Concentric
Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray - Jazznacht Live
Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray - Live In Italy
Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins : Which Way Is East
Frank Lowe & Rashied Ali : Duo Exchange
Joe McPhee & Hamid Drake : Emancipation/Proclamation
David Murray & Jack DeJohnette : In Our Time
Ellery Eskelin & Han Bennink : Dissonant Characters
Federico Ughi & Daniel Carter : Astonishment
Federico Ughi & Daniel Carter : Mountain Path
Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love : Dual Pleasure
Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love : Dual Pleasure 2
Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love : Seven
Frode Gjerstad & Paal Nilssen-Love : Day Before One
Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson : Splatter
Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson : I Love It When You Snore
Peter Brötzmann & Yoshisaburo Toyozumi : Sabu Brötzmann Duo
Peter Brötzmann & Hamid Drake : The Dried Rat-Dog
Lou Grassi & Marshall Allen : Live At The Guelph Festival
Noah Howard & Bobby Kapp : Between Two Eternities
Steve Baczkowski & Ravi Padmanabha : Tongue Rust & Lead Moth
Steve Baczkowski & Ravi Padmanabha : Aqua Machine
Steve Lacy & John Heward: Recessional (for Oliver Johnson)
Steve Lacy & Steve Argüelles: Image
Steve Lacy & Andrea Centazzo: Clangs
Steve Lacy & Andrea Centazzo: TAO
Eddie Prevost & Alan Wilkinson : So Are We, So Are We
Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar : Soul Bodies Vol. 1
Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar : Soul Bodies Vol. 2
Assif Tsahar & Tatsuya Nakatani : Come Sunday
Assif Tsahar & Susie Ibarra : Home Cookin'

Anthony Braxton & Andrew Cyrille - Duo Palindrome, Vols. 1 & 2
Max Roach and Anthony Braxton - Two in One - One in Two

Glenn Spearman & Donald Robinson - Night After Night
Evan Parker & Paul Lytton - RA ; Collective Calls; At the Unity Theatre, Two Other Stories
Lou Gare & Eddie Prevost - At the Roundhouse, To Hear and Back Again
Dewey Redman & Ed Blackwell - Red Black
Jimmy Lyons & Andrew Cyrille - Burnt Offering

John Zorn & Milford Graves - 50th Birthday Celebration
Rashied Ali & Louie Belogenis - Rings of Saturn
Sabir Mateen & Ben Karetnick - Xing
Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano - The Beloved Music

Willem Breuker & Han Bennink - The New Acoustic Swing Duo
Sabir Mateen
& Sunny Murray - We Are Not At The Opera
Sonny Simmons & Billy Higgins - Backwoods Suite
Daniel Carter & Andrew Barker - Common Soldier
Andrew Barker & Charles Waters - S/T
Andrew Barker / Charles Waters Duo - Dialogues In Now

I'm sure I forgot some memorable albums : please let me know!
Suggestions should be for entire albums of sax/drums.

(already many thanks to Tom, Stéphane, Clifford, Rosebud and anonymous)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Nels Cline/Andrea Parkins/Tom Rainey - Downpour (Victo Records, 2007) ****

Some years after their first album "Ash And Tabula", this avant-garde trio consisting of Nels Cline (guitar), Andrea Parkins (electronics, accordion, piano) and Tom Rainey (drums) brings a new exploration of hard sonic universes. The record requires some effort at first, but the more you've listened to it, the more astonishing it sounds. Andrea Parkins is responsible for the major part of the sonic explorations, with Nels Cline reacting to it and Tom Rainey accentuating and chasing the whole thing forward. This music is impossible to classify. This is no jazz, no rock, no free improv, but a new style which integrates the three genres. You may be able to find sound samples of this album on the internet, but 30 second pieces cannot possibly give an inkling of how this music evolves over these two long and one short track. The music pulls you into a place you've never been before, where sometimes, but very rarely, you can hear sounds that are familiar (some guitar strumming, drums, even a few undistorted piano notes, ...) but more often you will be surprised by sonic openings into a new spacial environment, with new tonal combinations, intense, electrifying, scary, gloomy, dark, menacing. The three musicians are incredibly strong, creating this musical universe as free improv with an incredible coherence and variation. Tom Rainey is without a doubt one of the best modern jazz drummers of the moment, and every album he contributed to in the last few years is excellent (Torn, Malaby, Berne, Helias, Shepik, O'Leary, Feldman), and that is no coincidence, because his drumming is so determining for the whole sound. And although Andrea Parkins is not so prominent on the foreground here, her sonic explorations are extremely functional and set the mood for the whole record. Nels Cline is again a master in harsh creativity, developing new sounds, sometimes guitar-like, yet more often totally unfamiliar sounds, and his playing is creative and subtle throughout both the calmer and the harder moments. He is someone like Robert Fripp who can create new music just due to his unbelievable mastery of his instrument. This record is a real adventure, full of power, energy and subtlety. Don't miss it.